New Gijichon Women's Peace Museum focuses on women of US military brothels

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New Gijichon Women's Peace Museum focuses on women of US military brothels

A portrait from Joo Yong-seong’s series, “When We Are Gone the Next Day,” which depicts women who used to work as prostitutes near American military bases in Korea / Courtesy of the GyeongGi Cultural Foundation

By Park Han-sol

A new museum dedicated to the women who worked in U.S. military brothels, the Gijichon Women’s Peace Museum, also known as “Seven Sisters,” opened on Tuesday in Anjeong-ri, a short distance from U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province.

After the 1950-53 Korean War, a system of prostitution managed in various ways by the Korean government was operated in the camp towns, or “gijichon” in Korean, that developed next to U.S. military bases all across Korea.

Although the vast majority of women who worked in the U.S. military brothels have remained silent for decades, about 100 came forward in recent years to testify about their working conditions and file a lawsuit against the government, demanding compensation for the psychological and physical harm they endured.

They were subjected to human rights violations including forced labor and detainment. Those who contracted sexually transmitted diseases were taken away to facilities where they received mandatory treatments causing serious physical side effects.

The Seoul Central District Court maintained in 2017, while ordering compensation for some of the women, that a number of other women appeared to have chosen the path to prostitution for their own livelihoods. But it also admitted that some had been trafficked and forced into prostitution against their will.

A year later in 2018, the Seoul High Court further ordered compensation for all plaintiffs, on the basis of the Korean government’s involvement in developing and managing the camp towns.

The new museum, also called “Seven Sisters” after an old nickname for the Anjeong-ri area, brings to light the lives and histories of the women of these camp towns, who remain stigmatized by both society and their own families. It plans to serve as a platform for providing legal and financial support for the women, many of whom continue to live in poverty.

On display at the exhibition hall is Joo Yong-seong’s portrait photography series, “When We Are Gone the Next Day,” as well as archival materials about the military brothel, and a recreation of the camp town living space of one woman, whose donation made the museum’s establishment possible.

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